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The Pyramid of Ahmose and Monument of Tetisheri at Abydos

Dr. Stephen Harvey is currently affiliated with State University of New York, Stony Brook, in the capacity of Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Archaeology. He has, since 1993, been director of the Ahmose and Tetisheri Project at Abydos in Egypt.

When Ahmose came to the throne of Egypt, it was a nation in transition. With the defeat of the Hyksos who controlled Lower Egypt and the Delta, the 2nd Intermediate Period came to an end and the 18th Dynasty, which ushered in the New Kingdom, began.

Dr. Harvey introduced this important Egyptian king – Ahmose - along with his wife, Ahmose Nefertari, and Prince Ahmose-Ankh, who probably died near the end of Ahmose’s reign, via a stela inscription which pictures all three. Ahmose reigned as the first king of the18th Dynasty, after successfully expelling the Hyksos from Lower Egypt, and ruled for 20 to 25 years, from approximately 1550 until 1525 BC.

Dr. Harvey has been working since 1993 at the funerary monuments built by Ahmose at Abydos. He noted that we rarely think of Abydos as a pyramid site, yet it was. The remains of a monumental pyramid built by King Ahmose was, in fact, the last royal pyramid ever built in Egypt. Based on the foundation measurements, the pyramid was 10 meters high and 150 meters to a side, and was limestone clad.

In 1899, Arthur Mace was sent by William Flinders Petrie to look at an interesting mound at South Abydos that he suspected might be Early Dynastic in date. After a brief survey of the site, Mace prepared a single page report along with a ground plan, basically stating that the remains were relatively insignificant, but that the mound was in fact a pyramid, datable to King Ahmose on the basis of a pyramid temple at it’s base, built of bricks stamped with Ahmose’s name. Abydos had, through the 2nd Intermediate Period, served as a kind of unofficial border between the Hyksos-controlled north and the Theban kingdom under Tao I & II and Kamose in Upper Egypt. When Tao II was killed during a battle with the Hyksos, and Kamose died after just 3 years on the throne, Ahmose succeeded him and ultimately drove the Hyksos out of the Lower Egypt and the Delta, thus unifying the country once more.

Ahmose’s tomb has never been located for certain. Dr. Harvey believes it very likely that Ahmose intended to be buried at Abydos. Royal burials of the Old and Middle Kingdoms were usually located in areas around or relatively near Memphis, and kings were buried under pyramids. Ahmose’s Theban ancestors of Dynasty 17 built small brick pyramids in Western Thebes, one of which was recently rediscovered by a German expedition. With the New Kingdom, and immediately after Ahmose’s reign, a major religious and architectural change took place and royal burials moved to Thebes. Ahmose’s funerary complex at Abydos contains both a pyramid and a below-ground tomb chamber. The mummy that has been identified as that of Ahmose was among those found in the Deir el Bahri Royal Mummy Cache, but was housed in a casket which was not his own – thus, conceivably may not be the mummy of Ahmose at all. The surviving texts do not support a burial at Thebes for Ahmose, though all his near relatives and his son and successor, Amenhotep I, are recorded as having had Theban burials.

Pyramids were a Memphite tradition, not an Abydos tradition. Though their primary purpose was to serve as a funerary monument to the deceased king, they also served a secondary purpose as a monument which supported the kings right to rule. After Ahmose, only tombs of private individuals used pyramids, and they were much steeper in slope than the royal tombs, with a 70% grade.

To acquaint the audience with the Abydos site where the Ahmose precinct is located, Dr. Harvey screened a map of the area, along with a photo of the Univ. of Pa./Yale/NYU dig house – which, as it happens, is located right in the middle of what was once the processional way at Abydos. Ahmose’s name appears in the king list from the Seti I temple at Abydos – a highly edited list that ignores lots of kings after Dynasty 12 (most prominently avoiding all of Dynasty 15, Hyksos kings of foreign origin) and then picks up again with Ahmose. Abydos contains an amazing array of monuments most of which are lined up roughly parallel to the processional way.

Abydos has since the earliest dynasties of Egypt, been the primary place for demonstrating royal kingship. It was the believed to be the site of the burial of one of Egypt’s most important ancient deities, the god Osiris, who is associated with death, resurrection, fertility and original kingship. It was the principle burial place for kings in Dynasties 1 and 2 and thereafter the site of numerous royal cenotaphs. Abydos may, in fact, have been the site where the Nubians came in contact with pyramids which they proceeded to adopt for kings buried in the Sudan.

When Arthur Mace penetrated the sand mound in the Ahmose precinct in 1900, he found that the structure had been cased in limestone casing blocks, but, after tunneling unsuccessfully to find a burial chamber, considered it a false tomb. In 1903, C.T. Currelly located additional monuments built by Ahmose, including a terraced temple, a large rock-cut underground tomb, and what Currelly called a “shrine” built in honor of Ahmose’s grandmother Queen Tetisheri. Although Arthur Mace only reported 3 fragments of inscribed stone from Ahmose’s pyramid temple, Dr. Harvey’s team has found over 3,000 more, including one that directly joins part of a carved pillar found by Mace, now in the Metropolitan Museum. Dr. Harvey’s team has also found fragments of battle scenes commemorating Ahmose’s defeat of the Hyksos, with horses - the earliest images of horses ever found in Egypt. He has found a textual fragment with the name of the city, Avaris, and fragments with ships, chariots, defeated Hyksos soldiers with body armor, and Egyptian soldiers cutting grain, all of which point directly to Ahmose’s battles and sieges against the Hyksos capitol at Avaris. These are Egypt’s earliest scenes of chariot warfare, and the only images ever found of Ahmose’s historic triumph.

In the first year of Dr. Harvey’s work at Abydos in 1993, he and his team focused mainly on the pyramid temple which is separated from the pyramid itself by about 40 meters. Nearby his team discovered a previously unknown temple to Ahmose’s wife, Ahmose-Nefertari, in which Dr. Harvey and his team have found fragments containing her name with her titles, including “Mother of a King, Wife of a King, Daughter of a King, and God’s Wife of Amun”. She is known to have been the first to hold this title. In subsequent seasons, he also located two other temples within the complex and a fourth building which may have been administrative in function. About 500 meters from Ahmose’s own pyramid, Currelly had found in 1903 the ground plan for a shrine of brick– the shrine Ahmose built to memorialize his grandmother, Tetisheri. The Ahmose pyramid complex is the single, most complex and largest architectural complex from the 18th Dynasty. In 2004, Harvey re-excavated this monument and was able to confirm that it was in fact a monumental pyramid built of brick, and not a mere shrine as Currelly had supposed. A massive enclosure built around her pyramid was also built by Ahmose, and was detected through use of megnetometry, which “reads” traces of brick beneath the sand. Dr. Harvey also noted that in the remains of the administrative building on the site, to the east of Ahmose’s temples, he has found inscriptions that indicate that Ahmose changed his names after he defeated the Hyksos – from Nebpehtyre (The Lord of Strength is Re), to Heqatawy (Ruler of the Two Lands).

Adjacent to the complex is a town, no doubt inhabited to the priests, who maintained the king’s mortuary cult, and their families. At the front of the pyramid is a 12% grade construction ramp part of which still exists. It is angled such that it avoids the temples. It is unusual that the construction ramp would still be in place, but it is certainly possible that the king died before the pyramid was finished, and work stopped after his death. Ostraca found in the area contain varying rows of dots, which until an ostraca with headings emerged were something of an enigma. Once the headings of the rows of dots were understood, it became clear that these were tallies of building materials.

Tetisheri’s shrine contained an inscription which is, in fact, a conversation between Ahmose and his wife, in which they are talking about Tetisheri and their decision to build the shrine in her memory. Tetisheri was an important figure in her own right. Though her parents seem to have come from one of the western oases and held no hereditary titles or elite offices, they may have been important personages. Despite her non-royal birth, she became the Great Wife of Seqenenre Tao I, and was granted many privileges not heretofore given to a queen. She was the first queen to wear the vulture crown signifying her status as Great Wife. When her son, Seqenenre Tao II rebelled against the Hyksos it is likely that it was she who maintained order at the Theban court during his absences. Tetisheri likely established the precedent for powerful female royalty in the 18th Dynasty.

Only one image of this important queen exists, and it may, in fact, be a modern forgery. In front of her cult shrine were found many artifacts including hundreds of offering vessels. Her pyramid enclosure is 70 meters by 90 meters with tiny buildings in each corner and a square brick pyramid in the center. What initially appeared on the ground plan to be many rooms, now are thought to be a vast series of relieving chambers which supported the pyramid. The shrine area opens from the center of one side and extends to the center of the structure. The pyramidal Tetisheri shrine is the second royal pyramid of Ahmose’s construction at Abydos.

Dr. Harvey and his team have found the limestone capstone of Tetisheri’s pyramid so are sure the structure was, in fact, a pyramid. It was a brick structure that once featured a mud plaster exterior. The excavation of one of the corner buildings revealed a lot of Greco-Roman deposits – baskets, reed mats, and dog mummies (70 of them of all ages). These corner structures which were built in the early 18th Dynasty, were clearly reused by a sacred dog cult in a later period. They may have originally been foundation deposit areas.

By the end of the 2006 season, Dr. Harvey has excavated 50, 10 by 10 meter squares (5000 m2). He has found foundation blocks and remains which show a cult was ongoing at the site for hundreds of years after Ahmose’s death. Within the funerary temple itself are two great pits lined with stone in which were found preserved tree roots. Fragments of statues of a man and woman have also been found, similar to some from late 18th Dynasty elite tombs at Memphis.

Dr. Harvey noted that he is really interested in the life and death of a temple complex; how it is set up initially and how it eventually dies. He hopes to find out more about the high officials and workers who were involved in the site. The Ahmose complex is revealing lots of new information about the early 18th Dynasty. Dr. Harvey postulated that Abydos is where Ahmose wanted to make his statement, a not unprecedented situation. Mentuhotep II came to Abydos to build a large complex and Ahmose’s successors didn’t consider it adequate just to have complexes at Memphis or Thebes. Abydos was the most sacred of all the sacred spots in Egypt and the site where a King wanted to be remembered for eternity.

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